A Little Bit More Subjective Chaos: 2019

Black and white photo of some pebbles, each painted with text: Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards

At the end of 2017, C of The Middle Shelf proposed a new set of informal awards: nominated, debated and awarded by a group of bookworms. We embraced chaos as our guiding principle, and we had so much fun we’re back for more. Welcome to the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards 2019.

A Little Bit Less Chaos?

The benefit of doing something a second time is that you have some idea of what works and what doesn’t. Most of the panel are returning for a second year, and we are retaining the same categories. There was even enough courage on deck to codify an official set of Rules.

Orphan Black: Rachel Duncan giggling into a martini

…just kidding. I mean, we thought about it. Talked about it. Wrote them up (thank you @hammard). Debated the small print, even. And then, uh, ‘refined’ them when it came to nominations.

More like guidelines, anyway, and all that jazz.

We do promise that:

  • we will embrace chaos, not try to contain it
  • we will have fun, but we probably won’t dance (honestly, dancing isn’t our thing)
  • all discussion will be good-humoured
  • strictly no shouting (don’t disturb the bookworms)

The Categories

After some discussion, we’re sticking to the categories we used last year, with a slight tweak to the definition of series:

  • Best Fantasy novel
  • Best SF novel
  • Best Blurred Boundaries novel
  • Best novella
  • Best complete series (final instalment published in 2018)

A series must be complete, and have multiple instalments with significant continuity in characters, plot and/or geography. Stand-alone titles in shared universes (e.g. Becky Chambers, Emma Newman) are nominated as Novels.


To be eligible for nomination, works must have been released in the previous calendar year and fit one or more of the following criteria:

  • published for the first time in English
  • published for the first time in the UK
  • published for the first time by a major publisher if previously (within the past ten years) crowd-funded or published  by an indie publisher
  • published in a substantially revised format (e.g. from novella to novel)


Each panellist nominates two works in each category, breaking our hearts in the process (ONLY TWO WHUT), and then stomping on the pieces by making one of the two our primary nominee. Each work may only be nominated in a single category.

In mid-January, we share our nominees with the panel. Fastest on the keyboard (there’s no precedence amongst Subjective Chaos panellists) adds their primary nominees to the shortlist. If your nominee already has a spot (or is found to be ineligible), you add your back-up instead.

Given the difficulty in picking only two nominees in the first place, in the highly unlikely event (yes, I realise I’m tempting fate) that both nominees are already shortlisted, we all have a soothing cup of tea and the panellist has a free choice.

Panellists do not have to nominate in every category, and can choose to only nominate a single work.


Once all nominations are in, we double-check eligibility against isfdb.org. Nominees may get moved between categories (not that we have a history of nominating novels in Novellas or novellas in Novels, oh no) without being deemed ineligible.

If the same title is nominated in multiple categories, we have a chat and agree which category to shortlist it in (and we resist creating more categories, although nobody regrets Blurred Boundaries). The proposer’s back-up nominee is added in the category that loses out.

Finally, additional nominees may be added to the shortlist in any category by group consensus (typically where several people shared a secondary nominee that didn’t make the list. Also, hallo, subjective chaos).


We don’t all have to vote in every category (sometimes, life gets in the way of reading. Shocking, I know). However, we can each only vote in a category if we have read all the books (DNFs are acceptable if over 50% of the title is read), and have read at least the first two books of each series.

In the first round of voting, we each vote for two titles preferentially – first place is awarded two points; second place is awarded one point. Our finalists are the two titles with the most points after voting.

Not voting in the first round of a category doesn’t preclude voting in the final round (so long as both books have been read). We each vote for a single title, and a simple majority wins.

Sounds simple? Yeah, that’s what we thought. But there’s always room for chaos (last year, we had more than two finalists in two categories after ties in first round voting), so we may make a few things up as we go.

The Panel

Sadly, the lovely Bethan May can’t join us this year – we’ll miss you!

What next?

The chaos has well and truly started behind the scenes already. Ah, it’s good to be back. I’ll be posting an update with the nominees shortly… watch this space.